Tuesday, March 30, 2021

10 Steps to Nurse Entrepreneurship

As a nurse entrepreneur for more than a decade, I've been around the block a few times at this point and have seen so much of the ups and downs of this particular professional journey. While I'm not specifically a business coach, my career coaching practice and experience as a nurse business owner have taught me a thing or two about getting a business up and running — and keeping it going. Nurses come to me on a regular basis expressing a desire to work for themselves, and I have cause to believe that this growing wave has yet to crest. So what is a nurse to do if they feel the entrepreneurial itch? 

What Does A Business Do? 

As a board member and avid fan and supporter of the National Nurses in Business Association, I'm consistently reminded that many nursing professionals would like to be business owners but aren't sure how to get started. That lack of business acumen is both prevalent and understandable since we certainly don't receive business instruction during nursing school.

Before we get to my top tips for launching your nurse-run business, let's talk about what a business actually does.

A business identifies a pain point, problem, or need, and then delivers a product or service to solve that problem to a customer willing to pay for that solution. 

Since the days of people living in caves, nothing has really changed about the nature of business. When a particular cave dweller found that he had a skill for making weapons out of bones, other cave dwellers may have realized that they really wanted to "own" one of his "products". Since money had yet to be invented as a means of exchange, barter was likely the way of the world. So, a cave woman who was skilled at making herbal remedies may have traded her herbal salves for a knife made of bone. In this way, both parties received a product that solved a vexing problem.

When money came along, barter was no longer necessary, thus those with the financial means could essentially trade currency for a product or service.

As a "nursepreneur", you may not be making knives out of bones, but you may have developed a product that solves a problem, and you'd like people to give you money for it. Take successful nurse business owner  Brian Mohika for example. Brian saw the need for a product that could allow those who wear catheter leg bags to have more freedom of movement and less skin irritation from straps and plastic. So, Brian invented CathWear, medical underwear that completely changes the way a leg bag is managed and vastly improves the patient experience.

Basically, Brian saw a problem and he created a product that changes people's lives in a significant way. (He even wrote a book about his journey and appeared on The Nurse Keith Show in March of 2021.)

This exemplifies the process of identifying a problem and creating an affordable and well-made product that solves the identified problem. Of course, a brilliant product sometimes doesn't fly off the shelves for various reasons, but CathWear is stupendously successful and is even sold in Walmart. 

Now that we've reviewed one example of how a product or service can solve an important problem — specifically for nurses —  let's look at my top 10 tips for those desiring to jump into the world of nurse entrepreneurship and nurse-run business.

Tip #1: What's your idea? 

A business almost always begins with an idea or a story. Perhaps you've invented a physical product like Brian Mohika, or maybe you'd like to start a home health agency targeting homebound seniors whose adult children would like a private duty nurse like you to manage their care. And maybe you have a gripping story that explains your motivations for starting this new venture -- those stories can communicate so much about your passion for your project.
  • Identify your idea
  • Ascertain if there's a compelling story behind your idea
  • Solidify and sharpen your idea and story
Tip #2: Do your research

Most people do a fair amount of research before they go to the trouble of launching a business venture. You need to be fairly certain that there's a viable market for your product or service; this includes making sure that the people for whom you're solving a problem are actually seeking a solution for that problem. A great product without a target audience is a product that may never see the light of day.

If you plan to manufacture a physical product, you'll need to do deep research regarding:
  • Developing a prototype
  • Finding a trustworthy manufacturer
  • Understanding how distribution will take place
  • Applying for a patent or trademark
  • And so much more
Tip #3: Identify your target market/niche

Your research will reveal who your target market or niche is, and your mentors and other advisors may have helpful information for you in that regard. The general idea has always been that "the riches are in the niches", meaning that a narrower niche will often be more successful than a business that tries to serve anyone and everyone.

For me, the niche that I've identified for my career coaching services is registered nurses, and that's a pretty big niche — I even work with some APRNs and nurse practitioners. As other coaches and counselors begin to enter this same market, I may choose to narrow my niche to, for instance, mid-career nurses who need career counseling and support; so I watch the market, see who's coming to me, and continue to monitor if my target audience needs to change in some way. Being willing to pivot and flex is certainly the order of the day.

Tip #4: Seek support in setting up your business

Starting a business can be a complex undertaking, so getting support is essential. You can seek out a mentor, hire a business coach, or discover if your local municipality provides any services for new business owners.

I cannot recommend the National Nurses in Business Association highly enough. The NNBA provides access to a national community of like-minded nurse entrepreneurs, and the annual conference is the flagship event that any business-minded nurse would be prudent to attend.

There are plenty of business coaches out there, including some who are nurses associated (or not) with the NNBA.

If you need to find out if there's a small business support center in your local area, try Score.org, and they'll pair you with a local mentor who will often be a retired businessperson who volunteers their time to help people like you.

Finally, just talk to people who run businesses and pick their brains!

Tip #5: Choose a name for your business

Your business will certainly need a name, so think carefully about this. The name of your company will be on your website, social media platforms, business cards, letterhead, checks, credit cards, etc. It also

Tip #6: Create a structure

An important part of your business startup is creating a business structure. This is an important decision in the process. Your business will generally be an LLC, S-Corp, J-Corp, or sole proprietorship. Seek out advice from legal counsel, your local Score office, or other reliable sources.

Tip #7: Set up your finances

Once you've decided on a structure, you'll probably want and need to separate your personal and business finances. In my own experience, this was simple: after forming my LLC, I went to my favorite local credit union where I do my banking and I opened a business checking account, a business savings account, and applied for a business credit card. For my own peace of mind, I keep track of transfers I make between my personal and business accounts, but you should definitely check with your accountant or bookkeeper about what data they would like you to make note of.

Let's make money, nurses!

Tip #8: Create your web presence

Every business needs a web presence, even if that business is a "brick and mortar" entity. Designing and building a website isn't rocket science, but it's admittedly complicated. I chose to hire a web designer to build my site, and I'm happy I did. If you have the wherewithal to build your own, go for it but be sure you ask for help when you need it!

Your business will also need to be on social media -- it's just the way that 21st-century businesses operate and it's what consumers expect. Don't feel you have to set up an account on every platform known to humans -- choose the places where it seems your target audience hangs out. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, LinkedIn -- these are the main social media sites that average Americans use regularly, so see what makes sense for you.

Tip #9: Hire reliable help

Aside from your mentors and other helpers in #4 above, you will also likely hire contractors or employees at some point in the course of running your business. I currently have a podcasting coach, a social media coordinator, a web designer, a tax preparer, and a podcast producer. In the past, I've also hired a graphic designer and a business coach. I actually did almost all of these things on my own at first, but quickly realized that I couldn't do it all and needed to focus on earning money, not learning a thousand new skills all at once.

Being able to hire people takes cash flow, so having some reserves is helpful, or you may need to take out a small business loan. Or you may simply do it all until there's enough money coming in to cover expenses.

Tip #10: Be nimble and willing to pivot

My final piece of advice is to be willing to pivot as you move along in the life of your business. In this economic climate, businesses need to be nimble -- markets shift, consumers change, and your needs or goals may also evolve over time.

Nimbleness is paramount -- can you be a flexible business owner ready to roll with the changes and punches?

Bringing it All Back Home

This list of my top 10 tips for launching your nurse-centric entrepreneurial endeavor is not exhaustive by any means. Again, a business coach or other mentor is often essential to getting things jump-started, and I'll repeat that the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA) is a great resource not to be overlooked -- where else can you find other nurses with an entrepreneurial mindset?

Good luck, and remember to reach out to skilled professionals who can support you on this exciting road! Go forth and conquer!


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, NursingCE.com, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. You can follow George the Cat on Instagram using the hashtag, #georgethecatsantafe.

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